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Business

Return of the 40-Hour Week

Following the lead of carmaker DaimlerChrysler, several large German companies are investigating allowing highly skilled employers to work longer than the standard 35-hour week.

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R&D employees at some automakers will be spending more time on the job.

According to a poll by German business daily Handelsblatt, engineering giant Siemens, automaker Porsche and other well-known names of German industry are considering lengthening the work week for employees in research and development departments to 40 hours.

DaimlerChrysler was the first to announce it will take advantage of last month's new collective wage agreement reached between employers and the powerful IG Metall engineering and metal workers union that allows for the extension of working hours for some employees if the company's workers' council agrees to it.

Before the latest agreement, the standard working week was set at 35 hours and no more than 18 percent of employees could work an additional five hours a week.

The current agreement allows that percentage to go up to 50 percent, provided that more than half of the total number of employees at a location are "especially qualified" and earn on average €4,500 ($5,566) per month. The extended hours must be accompanied by compensatory wage increases.

In the town of Sindelfingen, near Stuttgart, DaimlerChrysler has its largest German facility, where some 10,000 of the 40,000 employees there work in development and production planning. DaimlerChrysler management has said it will apply for all of these highly skilled employers to add an extra five hours to their weekly time cards. The local worker's council has said it will agree to the request.

During the wage agreement talks last month, employers and the IG Metall union said the new rules would help secure existing jobs and create new ones.

Unions are showing more flexibility in labor agreements in the face of high unemployment. The jobless rate in Germany rose dramatically in February to a seasonally adjusted rate of 10.3 percent. Economists have welcomed the new agreement, saying it will improve the competitiveness of German companies.

Jumping on the bandwagon

Siemens is currently holding talks with its workers' council, hoping to follow Daimler's lead. The introduction of the 40-hour week will be decided at each plant location, as appropriate, according to a company spokesperson. No decisions have yet been reached.

Porsche has said it wants to extend the working week for 3,000 of its employees in its development center and plans on starting talks with its employees' councils in the near future. Company head Wendelin Wiedeking is expected to introduce a fourth series to the Porsche family, and a longer week would help with increased development needs.

Other companies related to the auto industry, have expressed interest in the expanded hours. Tire maker Continental and electronics company Bosch, both subcontractors to the auto industry, are considering asking some workers to put in more hours.

Some Bosch employees at research and development locations already work a longer week, thanks to a special agreement the company hammered out with IG Metall in 2002. A company spokesman said it will now look at extending workers' hours at other sites.

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